Jacquelyn Ottman's Blog

Jacquelyn Ottman

J. Ottman Photo

Jacquelyn Ottman is the nation's foremost expert on green marketing and eco-innovation.

At age four, her siblings called her “Junkie Jacquie” when she dragged home treasures from the neighbor’s trash. Today she's on a mission to help businesses develop and market profitable new products and services that can help consumers lighten their own impact.

After spending over a decade in major NY advertising agencies learning the marketing ropes from the likes of Procter & Gamble and Ralston Purina, in 1989 Jacquie Ottman founded J. Ottman Consulting, Inc. and pioneered green marketing. Her goal: apply her finely-honed consumer packaged goods skills, her creative bent for dreaming up new products, and her strategic instincts to the toughest issues involved in meeting consumers' needs sustainably.

She and her colleagues have helped more than 60 Fortune 500 businesses and various U.S. government labeling programs, including U.S. EPA's Energy Star and the USDA's new USDA Certified Biobased label, develop concepts for exciting new products and strategies for communicating with green consumers while minimizing the risk of backlash.

A Respected Sustainability Leader

Ottman is a founding co-chair of the Sustainable Brands conference, at which she has given several keynote addresses. She is also the founding co-chair of the Sustainable Business Committee of the Columbia Business School Alumni Club of New York, and its wildly successful "Making Green from Green Certificate Series", now in its third  year. She sits on the Advisory Boards of the Centre for Sustainable Design (UK), and the Center for Small Business and the Environment. The former co-chair of the NYC chapter of O2, the global network of green designers and marketers, for seven years she chaired the jury of the American Marketing Association's Special Edison Awards for Environmental Achievement.

The Author of Four Books

She is the author of the newly released, The New Rules of Green Marketing: Strategies, Tools, and Inspiration (Berrett-Koehler (U.S.), Greenleaf Publishing (U.K.), February 2011, which has been named by the University of Cambridge (U.K) as a top 40 Sustainability book, and by Ecolibris as a top ten green book. Previous books include Green Marketing: Opportunity for Innovation, 2nd edition (McGrawHill, 1993), hailed as "the definitive text on the subject." She keeps the business community abreast of her learning on her blog, Jacquie Ottman's Green Marketing Blog, and numerous business publications, as well as on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.

A Sought-After Speaker and Educator

Jacquie is a sought-after keynoter at conferences in North America, South America, Europe and Asia, and at corporate forums run by Johnson and Johnson, 3M, Philips Electronics and GE, among many others. She also gives highly interactive and engaging webinars, workshops and master classes in venues around the world, including on-site and online workshops and webinars designed to help participants profit from the learning in her new book.

In 2004, she created the IDSA-endorsed Design:Green eco-design educational initiative. Underwritten by an EPA Innovation Grant, with additional support from Philips Lighting, the American Hardwood Association, Herman Miller and Aveda, the groundbreaking initiative more than met its ambitious goal of jump-starting education in eco-design and green marketing for thousands of practitioners and students in the U.S. and around the world.

A graduate of Smith College, she received her formal business training at NYU's Graduate School of Business Administration. An expert in creative thinking, Ottman earned the Creative Education Foundation's highest certification for facilitating creative problem-solving.

Marketing Biobased Content Credibly

Monday, December 17, 2012 by

Communicating the benefits of “biobased” content, the world’s newest ecological marketing term, is often tricky. Biobased represents all of green marketing’s traditional challenges — including greenwash — but has additional, unique challenges all its own. Happily, strategies and a credible third party label now exist.

Opportunities For Biobased Products and Packaging
There are many reasons for a business to use biobased content instead of traditional petroleum-based ingredients in their products, including:  it helps grow the farm economy, promotes energy independence, and helps manage carbon impacts, providing a useful hedge against potential future carbon taxes. Finally, biobased agricultural and other renewable material can mitigate petroleum’s wild price fluctuations, supply disruptions and geopolitics.

From an image and marketing perspective, a shift to biobased content can enhance reputation with stakeholders, including risk adverse investors. It can boost sales in the B2B and B2C sectors, as well as support and enhance many types of ‘green’ claims. Let’s look at these in more depth.

Selling opportunities are growing in the federal, commercial, and consumer markets. In the U.S., for instance, the federal sector will benefit from an Obama executive order signed in March 2012 to double the amount of biobased purchases.

Initial market research suggests consumer willingness to purchase biobased products and packages. Research commissioned by Genencor in 2011 suggests 40% of Americans are ‘aware of’ the term biobased and 77% will ‘definitely’ or ‘likely’ buy comparable biobased products.

In the consumer sector, biobased content can halo a brand.Coke’s new partly sugarcane-based PET ‘PlantBottle’ (with ‘up to’ 30% bioplastic), reinforces the brand positioning of Coke’s health-oriented Dasani bottled water and Odwalla juice brands. PlantBottle is now being licensed from Coke by H.J. Heinz for its iconic ketchup brand. An image of the bottle is below.

In 2010, 83% of U.S. adults identify with ‘green’ values, with various segments expressing their own reasons for likely interest in biobased. For instance, the LOHAS (Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability) segment represents the deep green consumers who take a holistic approach to all things sustainable and green; Naturalites look for organic food, natural personal care, cleaning and pet foods; Conventionals conserve natural resources; and status conscious Drifters who like to be seen carrying cloth shopping bags and driving a Toyota Prius. (Source: The Natural Marketing Institute).

Together, these consumers fuel a $290 billion U.S. market for natural products, renewable energy and more benign household products. Well-known brands that actively incorporate biobased content include Ford, Seventh Generation, Stonyfield Farm, and Procter & Gamble’s Gillette ProFusion and Pantene brands.

Marketing Challenges of Biobased

1. Unfamiliarity. Consumers don’t know the meaning of ‘biobased’. The term is not in the dictionary and is limited to scientific, engineering and B2B usages. USDA, which introduced a “USDA Certified Biobased Label” in early 2011, defines biobased as made from agricultural materials, forestry and marine based sources; so, even a well-informed consumer needs to learn that biobased products come from more than soy and corn.

2. Risk of Greenwash. Because biobased is unfamiliar but sounds ‘green’, consumers can infer such environmental benefits as “natural”, “renewable” and “biodegradable” which may or may not be the case depending upon the product. Benefits that are too easily and often incorrectly implied or overstated increase reputation risk.

Green marketing lessons of the past still apply. As Mobil learned the hard way, in the early 1990’s, their Hefty trash bags which were marketed as ‘photodegradable’ (although not called biobased) were pulled from the market after seven state attorneys general sued saying that the bags would disintegrate (i.e., break down into small fragments under the influence of heat and/or oxygen) but not degrade in landfills for which they were intended and advertised. (See the recently revised FTC Green Guides for further detail.)

3. Science. The ASTM D6866 scientific test standard upon which the USDA Certified Biobased label is based, helps define ‘biobased’ and accurately measure content.  Even with this credibility, results present communication challenges. Because the test measures biobased content as a percent of total carbon content, minerals and water are excluded. This can make comparisons difficult between products that contain minerals and water versus those with only biobased ingredients.

4. Red flags. Despite its many benefits, biobased content raises some red flags among some segments of consumers. For instance, some biobased products could compromise performance;  a case in point, the first Sun Chips ‘compostable’ bag made from corn-based PLA bioplastic had to be withdrawn because it was noisy; PLA manufacturer Natureworks quickly reformulated.

Also, some consumers take issue with biobased materials made from genetically altered crops (as is the case with most corn and soy grown in the U.S.), or are concerned about the effect agriculturally-based content may have on food prices.

Some may also question the sustainability of the harvesting practices. Finally, some consumers are concerned that biobased ingredients are imported rather than domestic, thus representing carbon impacts associated with transporting the materials from distant shores, or steal business from domestic farmers.

5. Confusion and misinformation. Still, many consumers — and even product marketers — mix up the terms ‘bio-based’ and ‘bio-degradable’. Both these properties are absolutely independent. Biobased refers to the origin of a material and biodegradable refers to the end-of-life. Biobased does not mean a material is biodegradable and vice-versa.


Success Strategies for Marketing Biobased Products and Packaging

To market biobased products and packaging with impact, relevance and credibility consider the following strategies:

1. Promote uniformity to let consumers compare biobased content by adhering to ASTM D6866. Disclose the source of the biobased content and dsitinguish between content that applies to product and package. Understand implications of grammatical constructions of ‘made with’, ‘made from’ and ‘made of’.

2. Follow FTC Green Guides (in the U.S.) and other applicable country guidelines when making environmental marketing claims of or related to biobased content. The recently updated FTC Green Guides provides specific guidance for such terms that biobased products can support such as ‘biodegradable’, ‘compostable’, and ‘renewable’.

Despite obvious consumer associations of biobased as ‘ecofriendly’, avoid what FTC describes as ‘generalized environmental benefit claims’.  Avoid images of ‘planets, babies and daisies’ that could imply the product is greener or contain more biobased content than in fact.
Make sure to portray environmental benefits from a total life cycle perspective.

3. Support claims with the USDA Certified Biobased label and other applicable biobased certifications to underscore credibility. Educate consumers on the meaning of ‘biobased’ and the underlying basis for the label.

4. Consider additional complementary sustainability-related certifications as appropriate. For instance, many products qualify forBPI’s CompostableUSDA OrganicU.S. EPA’s Design for Environment, and the independent Green Seal certification labels. The same is true for certification schemes in a number of other countries.

5. Carefully research and address consumer ‘red flag’ concerns. Reassure about performance and specify product applications.

Jacquelyn Ottman and Mark Eisen are colleagues at New York City-based J. Ottman Consulting, Inc., expert advisors to industry and government for strategic green marketing. They advised the U. S. Department of Agriculture on the launch of the USDA Certified Biobased label during 2011 and are now working with labelers on capturing the value of their participation in the program.

Jacquie Ottman is the author of The New Rules of Green Marketing: Strategies, Tools and Inspiration for Sustainable Branding (Greenleaf Publishing U.K., 2011). Mark Eisen is the former environmental marketing director at The Home Depot.

Additional Blog Posts on this Topic:

What Green Consumer Polls Should Really Be Asking

Monday, June 11, 2012 by

Ever since the resurgence of environmentalism in 1990, consumer polls have attempted to measure awareness, attitudes and behaviors towards environmental issues and products. Poll after poll has found that consumers claim to be concerned about the issues, they report high levels of green product purchase, and even claim willingness to pay a premium for greener products and packages.

But empirical evidence doesn’t seem to jibe with the research. In some markets, green products barely eke out 3% share, in contrast to the near majorities of consumers who express to pollsters interest in all things green. And despite consumer pronouncements otherwise, premium-priced green brands often gather dust on shelves. 

What can explain the gap between the polls and actual in-market performance? Are consumers lying to pollsters in an attempt to look virtuous?  Is the spirit willing but the pocketbook weak?  Or is it possible that we ourselves need to change the way we view the green consumer market — and ask different questions?  I suspect the latter.

What is “green” — exactly?

One of the biggest challenges in defining “green”, whether it be consumers, products or ads, is that “green,” like the planet itself, encompasses everything — air, water, biological life, chemicals, energy, you name it. 

When it comes to zeroing in on “green” products, what constitutes “green” can run the entire gamut of one or more attributes spanning a product’s lifecycle starting with raw materials (“sustainably harvested”, “organic” and “recycled”), right through to disposal  (“compostable”, “recyclable,”) — and everything in between. 

And most consumers can be said to be “green” in some way. For instance, NMI’s 2011 US LOHAS Consumers Trends poll found that 83% — an overwhelming majority of consumers — said they identified with green at some level.  (Who wouldn’t be for green?).

So when majorities of consumers say they are concerned about environmental issues and express interest in buying green products and recycling their newspapers and bottles, chances are they are telling the truth. 

Consumers may think they are actually greener than we give them credit for.

Is it possible that polls may overstate green consumer purchasing and behavior because consumers think that some of the conventional products they buy are actually green? 

Consider the language on the back of bottle of Tide. Every bottle of Tide, and many other big laundry detergent brands, too, now carries a recycling label and these messages:  “Bottle made from 25% or more post-consumer plastic,” “Contains no phosphates,” “Ingredients include biodegradable surfactants (anionic and nonionic) and enzymes.”  This all sounds pretty green to me!   

Even without such language, is it possible that consumers may believe that trusted brands from reputable companies are “green” —or that the government is watching out?

Do greener products need to scream green via eco-logos and images of planets, babies and daisies to merit a check mark in the “green” column?   Consider, too that white vinegar and baking soda have long been touted as green cleaning aids but don’t sport eco-logos of any stripe.

There may not even be such as thing as “green” marketing.

When the FTC Green Guides are issued in revised form (likely this year), what are referred to as “generalized environmental claims” will most likely be discouraged.  So “green” marketing is really an umbrella term for educating consumers about the various specific environmental benefits and attributes of one’s products or company.  Babies, planets and daisies are quickly disappearing from the vernacular and in their place are claims for particular environmental attributes.

So the answers to the $64,000 dollar questions of green marketing:  Who is the “green” consumer and will she pay a premium for green? Maybe that all  (or, okay, most ) consumers are green consumers since most consumers may think they are already buying green products, however they may define them.  And the extent to which they are willing to pay a premium may be no different for “green” than other products and that is: Do they provide value?

The Path Forward

What we seem to be dealing with, then, is a question of semantics, and the challenge of knowing which questions to ask to help us understand green market opportunities.  “Green” is a cozy, easy to remember term, but it may not be so useful in communicating with consumers who likely have their own interpretations of  ”green” expressed throughout their day-to-day lives.  And misleading polls results don’t help to build credibility for investment among skeptical businesspeople who for the past 20-plus years have been hearing that consumers “don’t care” and “won’t pay a premium”.

To those willing to take a shot at rebuilding interest and credibility in all things “green”, remember three important things: 1) Most consumers want to do the right thing. They want clean air and clean water, healthful food to eat, litter-free parks and beaches to play in, and energy to run their lives; 2) Whether it be keeping their bathtub clean, saving for retirement, driving the speed limit or eating healthfully, all consumers tend to overstate virtuous behavior to pollsters. (More than we would like, they report the person they aspire to be, or who they are just part of the time. ) And; 3) just like for all products, most consumers will only pay a premium when products demonstrate genuine added value.

Although it might take a little doing, most consumers have the wherewithal to understand the building blocks of “green”, e.g., “recycled”, “recyclable” and “biodegradable”.  Happily, businesses have the wherewithal to address consumers’ needs and to do it sustainably. Their motivations: a competitive advantage, profits, brand loyalty, motivated employees, the ability to innovate, and the promise of a business that will be sustained over time.

My book, The New Rules of Green Marketing  (LINK: http://www.greenmarketing.com/our-book ) includes detailed strategies and tools for businesses looking to positively address consumers’ environmental consciousness without fear of backlash.  On the top of the list, is the need for customized research to understand one’s own consumers’ attitudes and awareness of specific environmental attributes, including carefully segmenting the marketplace, and marketing one’s products accordingly.

 

Considered the nation's foremost expert on green marketing, Ottman is also a sought-after speaker and author of four books on green marketing. Her latest book is The New Rules of Green Marketing: Strategies, Tools, and Inspiration for Sustainable Branding (Berrett-Koehler, 2011). It is being hailed as "The New Green Marketing Bible" and "a must read for all marketers." Link here   (LINK:  http://www.greenmarketing.com ) for more information.

A Smart Way to Segment Green Consumers

Thursday, June 7, 2012 by

4 deep green sub segments (with source)When you target customers, it helps to know if they’re “dark green”, “light green” or “basic brown” in their attitudes, but, with so many green issues, products, and labels out there, it may be more relevant to your branding and communications to understand their personal green interests.

Ask: To which environmental organizations do members of our target audience belong (The Appalachian Mountain Club or Greenpeace)? Which types of vacations do they take (hiking or the beach)? Which environmental magazines and websites do they read or visit? (Sierra or Animal Fair?) Which types of products do they buy? (green fashions or energy-sipping light bulbs)? Which eco-labels do they seek out (“USDA Organic” or “Energy Star”)?

In observing green consumers over the past twenty years my colleagues and I have found that asking questions like these allows companies to distinguish between four subsegments, which we’ve dubbed “Resource Conservers”, “Health Fanatics”, “Animal Lovers” and “Outdoor Enthusiasts.” Of course, there are some overlaps among these groups, but discovering which subsegment your customers mainly fall into can sharpen your marketing. The following descriptions are generalizations, but they capture the spirit of each type of consumer.

Resource Conservers hate waste. (I should know. I am one.) Spot them wearing classically styled clothing, toting cloth shopping bags and sipping from reusable water bottles. Avid recyclers of milk jugs and Tide bottles, they drop off old electronics at Best Buy. They read news on-line to save trees, and are quick to re-use their Reynolds wrap. Ever watchful of saving their “drops” and “watts,” they install low-flow showerheads and compact fluorescent bulbs branded with EPA’s Energy Star and WaterSense labels. Shunning over-packaged products, they only turn on the lights when they have to, and they plug their appliances into power strips for easy shut-off when they leave for work.

Some ways to appeal to resource conservers:

1. Highlight the economical, long-lasting and reusability benefits of products.
2. Offer services that enable them to recycle, compost and save energy.

Health Fanatics worry about overexposure to the sun, fear pesticide residues on produce, and fret over contaminants in children’s toys. They apply sunscreen, scout out natural-food stores for the latest in organic foods, buy only natural cosmetics and pet care, and have switched out the toxic cleaning products for the non-toxic ones under the sink. They look for products marked with the “USDA Organic” seal of approval or EPA’s Design for Environment logo.They scrutinize websites like Michigan-based Ecology Center’s HealthyStuff.org and HealthyToys.org to get the skinny on toxic substances on products from school supplies to automobiles. Find them on the memberships rolls of Beyond Pesticides, Organic Consumers Association and to be regular readers of Natural Life Magazine.

Some ways to appeal to health fanatics:

1. Focus on organic aspects, health benefits, trust, transparency and natural ingredients.
2. Cross-promote with organic foods companies or a non-toxic cleaning product or sponsor a website like OrganicConsumers.org, or advertise in Natural Life Magazine.

Animal Lovers are likely to be vegetarian or vegan, belong to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), and boycott tuna and products with real fur. They look for products labeled as “cruelty-free”, Salmon Safe, or Dolphin-safe. They seek out synthetic handbags and faux fur jackets, and favor the faux-meat options at restaurants. They perk up to news stories featuring animals in need, from manatees and polar bears to strays in their neighborhood, and are likely to volunteer at the local animal shelter. Out of concern for marine life, they eschew plastic bags. Catch them reading Animal Fair Magazine and Veg News Magazine.

Some ways to appeal to animal lovers:

1. Conduct a cause-related marketing campaign through PETA’s Business Friends program or partner with the ASPCA.
2. Advertise in Animal Fair Magazine and PAWS magazine or online on WWF.org.

Outdoor Enthusiasts spend their free time camping, rock climbing, skiing, and hiking. They vacation in national parks and plan their next adventure using tips from Outdoors Magazine. Whether they’re purchasing Dr. Bronner’s Castile Soap to reduce the impact of washing dishes while camping, or toting reusable bottles like Kleen Kanteen to avoid littering the trail, they seek to minimize the impact of their recreational activities. When shopping, they look for FSC (sustainably harvested) labels on their products, are also likely to purchase outdoor gear made from recycled materials, such as Synchilla PCR (post-consumer recycled polyester) from Patagonia.

Some ways to appeal to outdoor enthusiasts:

1. Conduct a joint promotion with national parks or manufacturers of boots, reusable bottles, and trail mix snacks.
2. Advertise in Sierra Club magazine or online at Backpackers.com.

How do you segment your green customers? And how does that affect your marketing strategy?

 

***Jacquelyn Ottman is the founder and principal of J. Ottman Consulting, Inc., an expert advisers on green marketing to consumer product marketers and U.S. government labeling programs. She is the author of four books on green marketing, including the recently released The New Rules of Green Marketing: Strategies, Tools and Inspiration for Sustainable Branding (Berrett-Koehler, 2011).
Download a free chapter and get more information here. Excerpted from The New Rules of Green Marketing: Strategies, Tools and Inspiration for Sustainable Branding (Berrett-Koehler 2011) by Jacquelyn A. Ottman. 

 

6 New Values Change the Way Consumers Buy

Wednesday, May 16, 2012 by

values roadside imageA radical shift is happening in the marketplace—consumers are increasingly basing purchasing decisions not just on value, but on their values.

As I describe in my book, The New Rules of Green Marketing: Strategies, Tools and Inspiration for Sustainable Branding (Berrett-Koehler; February 2011), now more than ever, consumers of all stripes are demanding that the brands they buy and the companies that make them, share their own personal social and environmental values.

Consumers are increasingly seeing businesses as linchpins with the resources and the incentives to address pressing societal needs (and this is especially so when government is seen as falling behind or inadequate in this regard.) This perception is changing the rules of the road for marketers who must respond quickly or risk being left behind by offerings viewed as more authentic and committed to sustainability.

As I detail in the book, new rules are being written by consumers for manufacturers and marketers.

1. Values guide consumer purchasing. Historically, consumers bought solely on price, performance, and convenience. But today, how products are sourced, manufactured, packaged, disposed of - and even such social aspects as how factory and farm workers are treated - all matter. This green consciousness is not confined to the younger generations. Over half of Baby Boomers consider themselves socially conscious shoppers. That’s 40 million green boomers who choose to organize, pluck resource-conserving products from the shelves, boycott products of companies that pollute, and “pro-cott” the products of companies that give back to the community.

2. Life Cycle considerations are important. Today’s consumers are doing more than just checking prices and seeking out familiar brand names. They turn over packages in search of descriptors that reflect a panoply of environmental and social issues that can impact a product throughout its entire life cycle. In the same breath, consumers can look for products that are at once, “pesticide free” “fair trade” and “sustainably harvested.” Representing a sea change in the history of promotion, marketers need to move beyond sheer product benefits in their messages and tell the whole story behind their offerings.

3. Manufacturer and retailer reputation count now more than ever. Not all greener products have ecolabels or green claims emblazoned on them. Many consumers defer to manufacturer and retailer reputations as a defacto eco-label. Consumers are asking, “Who makes this brand? Did they produce this product with high environmental and social standards?” That’s one reason why S.C. Johnson is quick to remind us that they are “A Family Company”, and why CEOs such as Tom Chappell (Tom’s of Maine), Gary Hirshberg (Stonyfield Farm) and Yvon Chouinard (Patagonia) maintain high profiles.

4. Businesses are their philosophies. It used to be that companies were what they made. International Business Machines. General Foods. General Motors. Now, businesses and brands are what they stand for. San Francisco-based Method’s innovative line of household cleaning products uses design, fragrance, efficacy, and environmental and personal safety to make cleaning a positive experience for the individual and the environment. Their “People Against Dirty” campaign” featured on the methodhome.com website and their equally empowering “Say no to (laundry) jugs” campaign supporting their new 8X concentrated laundry detergent in waste-free squirt bottle equip consumers with the wherewithal to make a difference.

Meanwhile, “Starbucks proves that a global company serving 50 million people per day can turn a proactive approach to sustainable sourcing and operations into a strategic and profitable part of its brand. And Timberland’s attention to quality, passion for the environment and society, and commitment to transparency has helped earn a strong customer following willing to pay its premium.

5. Nearly everyone is a corporate stakeholder. A reflection of the growing social consciousness that exists among today’s consumers, corporate stakeholders are no longer confined to just customers, employees, and investors; today, publics of all stripes are now corporate stakeholders including environmentalists, educators, and children - even the unborn. For instance, the astronomic rise in cause-related marketing efforts, now refined to a science helps business such as Starbucks and in turn, their enlightened customers support people living with AIDS in Africa.

6. Authenticity. It’s not enough to slap on a recycling logo or make a biodegradability claim. Brands viewed as the most genuine integrate relevant sustainability benefits into their products. That’s why HSBC and Stonyfield Farm aim to reduce the carbon impacts of their corporate operations. Their industry-leading track record for managing their carbon footprint (which we at J. Ottman Consulting advised them on) undergirded HSBC’s Effie award- winning “No Small Change” green marketing campaign which empowered consumers to reduce their own carbon footprint, in line with the bank’s own experience.

*** Jacquelyn Ottman is the founder and principal of J. Ottman Consulting, Inc., an expert advisers on green marketing to consumer product marketers and U.S. government labeling programs. She is the author of four books on green marketing, including the recently released The New Rules of Green Marketing: Strategies, Tools and Inspiration for Sustainable Branding (Berrett-Koehler, 2011).
Download a free chapter and get more information her.

Excerpted from The New Rules of Green Marketing: Strategies, Tools and Inspiration for Sustainable Branding (Berrett-Koehler 2011) by Jacquelyn A. Ottman. 
 

What Green Consumer Polls Should Really Be Asking

Tuesday, May 8, 2012 by

Ever since the resurgence of environmentalism in 1990, consumer polls have attempted to measure awareness, attitudes and behaviors towards environmental issues and products. Poll after poll has found that consumers claim to be concerned about the issues, they report high levels of green product purchase, and even claim willingness to pay a premium for greener products and packages.

But empirical evidence doesn’t seem to jibe with the research. In some markets, green products barely eke out 3% share, in contrast to the near majorities of consumers who express to pollsters interest in all things green. And despite consumer pronouncements otherwise, premium-priced green brands often gather dust on shelves. 

What can explain the gap between the polls and actual in-market performance? Are consumers lying to pollsters in an attempt to look virtuous?  Is the spirit willing but the pocketbook weak?  Or is it possible that we ourselves need to change the way we view the green consumer market — and ask different questions?  I suspect the latter.

What is “green” — exactly?
One of the biggest challenges in defining “green”, whether it be consumers, products or ads, is that “green,” like the planet itself, encompasses everything — air, water, biological life, chemicals, energy, you name it. 

When it comes to zeroing in on “green” products, what constitutes “green” can run the entire gamut of one or more attributes spanning a product’s lifecycle starting with raw materials (“sustainably harvested”, “organic” and “recycled”), right through to disposal  (“compostable”, “recyclable,”) — and everything in between. 

And most consumers can be said to be “green” in some way. For instance, NMI’s 2011 US LOHAS Consumers Trends poll found that 83% — an overwhelming majority of consumers — said they identified with green at some level.  (Who wouldn’t be for green?).

So when majorities of consumers say they are concerned about environmental issues and express interest in buying green products and recycling their newspapers and bottles, chances are they are telling the truth. 

Consumers may think they are actually greener than we give them credit for.
Is it possible that polls may overstate green consumer purchasing and behavior because consumers think that some of the conventional products they buy are actually green? 

Consider the language on the back of bottle of Tide. Every bottle of Tide, and many other big laundry detergent brands, too, now carries a recycling label and these messages:  “Bottle made from 25% or more post-consumer plastic,” “Contains no phosphates,” “Ingredients include biodegradable surfactants (anionic and nonionic) and enzymes.”  This all sounds pretty green to me!   

Even without such language, is it possible that consumers may believe that trusted brands from reputable companies are “green” —or that the government is watching out?

Do greener products need to scream green via eco-logos and images of planets, babies and daisies to merit a check mark in the “green” column?   Consider, too that white vinegar and baking soda have long been touted as green cleaning aids but don’t sport eco-logos of any stripe.

There may not even be such as thing as “green” marketing.
When the FTC Green Guides are issued in revised form (likely this year), what are referred to as “generalized environmental claims” will most likely be discouraged.  So “green” marketing is really an umbrella term for educating consumers about the various specific environmental benefits and attributes of one’s products or company.  Babies, planets and daisies are quickly disappearing from the vernacular and in their place are claims for particular environmental attributes.

So the answers to the $64,000 dollar questions of green marketing:  Who is the “green” consumer and will she pay a premium for green? Maybe that all  (or, okay, most ) consumers are green consumers since most consumers may think they are already buying green products, however they may define them.  And the extent to which they are willing to pay a premium may be no different for “green” than other products and that is: Do they provide value?

The Path Forward
What we seem to be dealing with, then, is a question of semantics, and the challenge of knowing which questions to ask to help us understand green market opportunities.  “Green” is a cozy, easy to remember term, but it may not be so useful in communicating with consumers who likely have their own interpretations of  ”green” expressed throughout their day-to-day lives.  And misleading polls results don’t help to build credibility for investment among skeptical businesspeople who for the past 20-plus years have been hearing that consumers “don’t care” and “won’t pay a premium”.

To those willing to take a shot at rebuilding interest and credibility in all things “green”, remember three important things: 1) Most consumers want to do the right thing. They want clean air and clean water, healthful food to eat, litter-free parks and beaches to play in, and energy to run their lives; 2) Whether it be keeping their bathtub clean, saving for retirement, driving the speed limit or eating healthfully, all consumers tend to overstate virtuous behavior to pollsters. (More than we would like, they report the person they aspire to be, or who they are just part of the time. ) And; 3) just like for all products, most consumers will only pay a premium when products demonstrate genuine added value.

Although it might take a little doing, most consumers have the wherewithal to understand the building blocks of “green”, e.g., “recycled”, “recyclable” and “biodegradable”.  Happily, businesses have the wherewithal to address consumers’ needs and to do it sustainably. Their motivations: a competitive advantage, profits, brand loyalty, motivated employees, the ability to innovate, and the promise of a business that will be sustained over time.

My book, The New Rules of Green Marketing includes detailed strategies and tools for businesses looking to positively address consumers’ environmental consciousness without fear of backlash.  On the top of the list, is the need for customized research to understand one’s own consumers’ attitudes and awareness of specific environmental attributes, including carefully segmenting the marketplace, and marketing one’s products accordingly.

 

Considered the nation's foremost expert on green marketing, Ottman is also a sought-after speaker and author of four books on green marketing. Her latest book is The New Rules of Green Marketing: Strategies, Tools, and Inspiration for Sustainable Branding (Berrett-Koehler, 2011). It is being hailed as "The New Green Marketing Bible" and "a must read for all marketers." Link here for more information.

We Are All Green Consumers – Now and for the Future

Monday, April 30, 2012 by

Green Purchasing BehaviorGreen has gone mainstream. Not too long ago, just a small group of deep green consumers existed. Today, 83% of consumers (Source: Natural Marketing Institute, 2009) - representing four generations, Baby Boomers, Millennials, Gen Ys and Gen Zs - are some shade of green. Each in their own way, these generations are quickly transforming what used to be a fringe market that appealed to a faction of eco-hippies is now a bona fide $290 billion industry ranging from organic foods to hybrid cars, ecotourism to green home furnishings. Teen daughters of yesterday’s activist moms search out Burt’s Bees lip balm made from beeswax while their “twenty-something” brothers opt to clean their new digs with Method ‘s cucumber-fragranced dish liquid. Today’s Dads boast of higher mileage, fewer fill-ups, and the peppy look of their new Mini Coopers or diesel-powered Jettas that get 50-plus miles to the gallon; expect their Gen X sons to be kicking the tires of Nissan’s electric Leaf, now heading towards showroom floors.
 
Thanks to advances in materials and technology, today’s “greener” products (defined as having a lighter impact on the planet than alternatives) and today’s more “sustainable” products (those that add a social dimension, e.g., fair trade) now not only work well, they likely work better and more efficiently than the “brown” counterparts they were designed to replace. Channels of distribution have changed have changed, too.  As I point out in my just released book, The New Rules of Green Marketing (Berrett-Koehler, February 2011)  today, sustainable products are readily available in conventional supermarkets such as Fred Meyer and Safeway, brightly lit emporiums such as Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods Market, while mighty Wal-Mart leads the charge towards lifecycle-based standards for products through its groundbreaking Sustainability Consortium
 
Once confined to open spaces and rooftops, solar power is now mobile, fueling a modern-day, on-the-go lifestyle embedded in cellphone chargers, backpacks, and even the latest fleet of powerboats. Or confined to the tissue boxes or wrappers of days gone by, recycled content is now good enough for Kimberly-Clark’s own Scott Naturals line of tissue products (with its new “coreless role”)  and Staples’ EcoEasy office paper, Patagonia’s Synchilla PCR (post-consumer recycled) T-shirts made from recycled soda bottles, and Aveda’s Uruku cosmetics packaging made from recycled newsprint, to name just a few.
 
A sure sign that caring for nature and the planet and the people who live here now and in the future is here to stay – “Sustainability” is a core value of every living generation, starting with the Baby Boomers, the nation’s primary household shoppers and societal leaders who led the green charge back in the mid to late-1960s, and extending right through to Internet-savvy Generations X, Y, and Z who promise to transform markets as future decades unfold.
 
Four Generations of Green
The consuming power of the four current generations is remarkable if marketers can target them by what appeals to them uniquely.
 
Boomers: The First Modern Green Generation
Now the heads of millions of U.S. households, the Baby Boomers and been influencing society since the 1960s when they planted the seeds of the modern day green movement when as idealistic youths, gathered to celebrate the first Earth Day, in 1970, followed by the first Solar Day in 1971. Their peaceful demonstrations of concern gave rise to the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, the founding of the US Environmental Protection Agency in 1970, the Clean Air and the Clean Water Acts that same year, and the Endangered Species Act of 1973.
 
The Middle East oil embargo, marking the beginning of the energy crisis of 1973-75, then focused the Baby Boomers on the need for smaller, more fuel-efficient cars.  Witnesses to the 1979 the release of the fictional The China Syndrome, a movie about safety cover-ups at a nuclear power plant, serendipitously opened at theaters two weeks prior to the partial core meltdown at the Three Mile Island nuclear-generating station near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. They learned first hand about the need for renewable energy.
 
Taking the values and attitudes they have instilled upon society and have imparted to their children and grandchildren to supermarket aisles, today, over half of Baby Boomers consider themselves socially conscious shoppers. That’s 40 million green boomers who, as illustrated in the chart below. choose to organize, pluck resource-conserving products from the shelves, boycott products of companies that pollute, and “pro-cott” the products of companies that give back to the community.
 
GenX: Eyes on the World
CNN brought global issues into the living room of this generation 24/7.  Counting among them actors Leonardo DiCaprio and Cameron Diaz as two of the most outspoken environmentalists of their generation, Gen Xers see environmental concerns through a lens that aligns social, educational, and political issues. They witnessed the fire in the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal India, and the aftermath of the explosion in Chernobyl. In 1985, the Live Aid concert helped to instill in them the need for famine relief in developing nations to an unprecedented 400 million worldwide, and more pointedly, in 1989, Gen Xers saw the massive devastation wrought by the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska.
 
Millennials: Digital Media at Their Command
This generation grew up in front of computers and unleashing the power of the Internet is second nature to them. Having lived through Hurricane Katrina and the BP Oil Spill, and with growing awareness of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (the size of Texas), they tend to be distrustful of government and authority, and are quick to challenge greenwash and other marketing practices they deem to be unauthentic or untruthful. With their majority believing that humans cause climate change and the Millenials (aka Gen Y) are twice as likely to buy green products than those who believe climate change is occurring naturally.
 
Green is an integral part of this generation’s college experience. Legions of students now opt for newly created environmental studies courses (and majors) and are active in campus sustainability initiatives.
 
Reusable water bottles and coffee mugs are ubiquitous on college campuses where many savvy companies now reach out with sustainability messages to future householders with significant incomes. Not content to sacrifice all for the almighty dollar, Millennials seek to balance “quality of life” and the “quest for wealth”; they seek to work for socially conscious employers.
 
As the offspring of the Baby Boomers whose social and environmental values they share, Millennials are the likely new leaders of the modern-day green movement. With the ability to express their opinions through blogging, texting, and social networks, they are capable of mustering immediate responses from millions around the globe.
 
Generation Z: Green is a Natural Part of Their Lives
The first generation to be brought up entirely in an environmentally conscious world, green is part of their everyday life. This generation - currently under the age of 16 - think nothing of living in solar-powered homes with a hybrid car in the driveway. In school and at home the 3Rs of waste management, “reduce, reuse, and recycle,” are as common as the 3Rs of “reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic.”  Sorting paper and plastic for recycling is a normal part of “taking out the trash.”  As school kids, they likely viewed The Story of Stuff, a 20-minute animated video that divulges the environmental impact of our daily consumption. Environmentally sensitive cleaning aids, locally grown produce, and recycled-paper goods likely top their parents’ shopping lists; clothes made from organically grown cotton and biobased fibers are part of their own Gen Z uniform.
 

******
Jacquelyn Ottman is the founder and principal of J. Ottman Consulting, Inc., an expert advisers on green marketing to consumer product marketers and U.S. government labeling programs. She is the author of four books on green marketing, including the recently released The New Rules of Green Marketing: Strategies, Tools and Inspiration for Sustainable Branding (Berrett-Koehler, 2011).
Download a free chapter and get more information here. Excerpted from The New Rules of Green Marketing: Strategies, Tools and Inspiration for Sustainable Branding (Berrett-Koehler 2011) by Jacquelyn A. Ottman. 

The New Green Marketing Paradigm

Wednesday, April 25, 2012 by

New paradigm ahead road sign image
Conventional marketing is out. Green marketing and what is increasingly being called “sustainable branding” is in. According to the new rules of green marketing, effectively addressing the needs of consumers with a heightened environmental and social consciousness cannot be achieved with the same assumptions and formulae that guided consumer marketing since the postwar era. Times have changed. A new paradigm has emerged requiring new strategies with a holistic point of view and eco-innovative product and service offering.
 
Historically, marketers developed products that met consumers’ needs at affordable prices and then communicated the benefits of their brands in a memorable way.

Paid media campaigns characterized by ads with catchy slogans were de rigueur. Green or “sustainable” marketing and branding is more complex. It addresses consumers’ new heightened expectations for businesses to operate and requires two strategies:

1. Develop products that balance consumers’ needs for quality, performance, affordability, and convenience with the lowest impact possible on the environment, and with due concern for social considerations, e.g., labor, and community.

2. Create demand for the resulting brands through credible, values-laden communications that offer practical benefits while empowering and engaging consumers in meaningful ways about important environmental and social issues. These communications represent value to consumers for what they provide functionally and what they represent, and often positively reinforce the manufacturer’s track record for sustainability as well.

The new rules being laid down by today’s eco-conscious consumers cannot be addressed with conventional marketing strategies and tactics.

Brand builders in the 21st century are accountable to tough new standards. Sustainability represents deep psychological and sociological shifts - not to mention seismically important issues - as did one of its predecessors, feminism, which forced marketers to develop more convenient products in step with two-income lifestyles and to portray women with a new respect.

Meeting the challenges of today’s level of green consumerism presents its own mandates for corporate processes, branding practices, product quality, price, and promotion. To realize that the rules of the game have changed in a big way, one need only recall the unsavory backlash that is now occurring over what is perceived by environmentalists, regulators, and the press as inconsistent and often misleading eco-labels and messages. The resulting deluge of skepticism, confusion, and regulatory nightmares that spurious green claims - dubbed “greenwash” - are spawning in the marketplace proves that environmental marketing involves more than tweaking one or two product attributes and dressing up packages with meaningless and often misleading claims. Too many marketers are learning the hard way that leveraging environment-related opportunities and addressing sustainability-related challenges requires a total commitment to greening one’s products and communications.

Green marketing done according to the new rules also affects how a corporation manages its business and brands and interacts with all of its stakeholders who may be affected by its environmental and social practices.
 
The Seven Strategies for Green Marketing Success

Under the new rules, the currency of sustainable branding is innovation, flexibility, and heart. I have formulated seven strategies which I believe can help businesses address these deep-seated and lasting changes in consumer sensibility. Reflecting our learning from working with sustainability leaders over the past 20-plus years, they can be summarized as follows:

1. Understand the deeply held environmental and social beliefs and values of your consumers and other stakeholders and develop a long-term plan to align with them.

2. Create new products and services that balance consumers’ desires for quality, convenience, and affordability with minimal adverse environmental and social impacts over the life of the product.

3. Develop brands that offer practical benefits while empowering and engaging consumers in meaningful ways about the important issues that affect their lives.

4. Establish credibility for your efforts by communicating your corporate commitment and striving for complete transparency.

5. Be proactive. Go beyond what is expected from stakeholders. Proactively commit to doing your share to solve emerging environmental and social problems - and discover competitive advantage in the process.

6. Think holistically. Underscore community with users and with the broad array of corporate environmental and societal stakeholders.

7. Don’t quit. Promote responsible product use and disposal practices. Continuously strive for “zero” impact.

***Jacquelyn Ottman is the founder and principal of J. Ottman Consulting, Inc., an expert advisers on green marketing to consumer product marketers and U.S. government labeling programs. She is the author of four books on green marketing, including the recently released The New Rules of Green Marketing: Strategies, Tools and Inspiration for Sustainable Branding (Berrett-Koehler, 2011).
Download a free chapter and get more information here.

Excerpted from The New Rules of Green Marketing: Strategies, Tools and Inspiration for Sustainable Branding (Berrett-Koehler 2011) by Jacquelyn A. Ottman. 

 

Focus On Consumer Self-Interest to Win Today's Green Customer

Sunday, April 22, 2012 by

Eco-labels are an excellent way to enhance credibility for green marketing claims, but they are not without risk. While 28% of consumers look to green certification seals or labels to confirm that a product adheres to claims, these labels can also confuse. Happily there’s enough method within the madness for marketers to pave a way forward.
 
Eco-labeling challenges
More than 400 different eco-labels or green certification systems are now on the market. Questions such as which label is better, which product is safer for the environment and what does a label even mean are common questions that well-intended green shoppers may find themselves asking when trying to make an environmentally responsible purchase.
 
Confusion can arise from labels that certify too much or too little information. Some eco-labels focus on a single product attribute (e.g., recycled content), which keeps things simple but can inadvertently mislead consumers into thinking the product is green overall. Other labels look at several characteristics of a product or even a product’s entire life cycle; such multi-attribute certifications may raise questions about the credibility of a single-attribute certified product while also preventing easy comparisons.
 
Some products, such as electrical appliances, have a number of labels and certifications, while others, such as mattresses or flatware, have none. Another common reason for confusion is the discrepancy in the levels of rigor applied to some eco-labeling—some require independent, third-party verifications while others allow self-certification.
 
Here are some important criteria to consider when seeking the labeling most relevant to your brand:
 
Single-attribute labels
 Single-attribute seals focus on one environmental issue, e.g., energy efficiency or sustainable-wood harvesting. Before certification, an independent third-party auditor is typically required to verify that the product meets a publicly available standard.
 
Many single-attribute labels are sponsored by industry associations looking to defend or capture new markets. Others are sponsored by environmental groups or NGOs that want to protect a natural resource or further a cause. Two single-attribute labels with a global presence are the Forest Stewardship Council (or FSC) label, ensuring the sustainable harvesting of wood and paper, and Fair Trade Certified, ensuring that strict economic, social and environmental criteria were met in the production and trade of such agricultural products as coffee.
 
Voluntary U.S. government labels
Unlike in some countries, such as Canada, Japan and South Korea, the U.S. government has opted for voluntary single- rather than multi-attribute labels. (The private sector and not-for-profit groups hold sway in the area of multiattribute eco-labeling.) Outside of those associated with independent testing, the government-backed labels don’t involve fees. One of the most visible and influential labels is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s ENERGY STAR (for which we at J. Ottman Consulting were proud to advise over many years).
 
ENERGY STAR promotes energy efficiency in more than 60 product categories, and almost 3,000 manufactured products now feature the ENERGY STAR label. In fact, according to the Natural Marketing Institute, in 2009, 93% of the American public recognized the ENERGY STAR label and 73% said they would be more likely to purchase products that carried that label.
 
Other EPA labels include WaterSense, SmartWay (transportation) and Design for Environment (safer chemicals). The USDA stewards the USDA Organic and USDA Certified Biobased labels (another J. Ottman Consulting client).
 
Multi-attribute labels
As the name suggests, multi-attribute labels examine two or more environmental impacts. Founded in 1989, Green Seal is the granddaddy of them all. It provides a seal of approval for a variety of products that meet specific criteria on a category-by-category basis. Products are reviewed annually for a fee. A few of the organizations whose products now bear the Green Seal certification include Wausau Paper, Clorox, Kimberly-Clark and Hilton.

If your green ads showcase the now tiresome images of babies, daisies, and planets, your messages will likely be irrelevant to mainstream consumers. Eco-imagery may have tugged at the purse-strings of “deep green” consumers, but their lighter green counterparts, who make up the bulk of the market, want to know how even the greenest of products benefit them personally. While the environment may be the underlying reason a product was created or upgraded, it will likely not be the primary motivation for consumers to choose your brand over those of competitors.
 
Avoid green marketing myopia
In other words, don’t commit the fatal sin of “green marketing myopia”. As my colleagues, Ed Stafford and Cathy Hartman of the Huntsman Business School of Utah State, and I point out in our much-quoted article, “Avoiding Green Marketing Myopia,” remember that consumers buy products to meet basic needs - not altruism.
When consumers enter a store, they don their consumer, not citizen caps. They are looking to find the products that will get their clothes clean, that will taste great, that will save them money or that will make themselves appear attractive to others. Environmental and social benefits are best positioned as an important plus that can help sway purchase decisions, particularly between two otherwise comparable products.
 
Quiet Green Marketing
Underscoring the primary reasons why consumers purchase your brand - sometimes referred to as “quiet green” - can broaden the appeal of your greener products and services way beyond the niche of deepest green consumers. Quiet green might also help overcome a premium price hurdle. So, focus communication for greener products on how consumers can protect their health, save money, or keep their home and community safe and clean. Show busy consumers how some environmentally inclined behaviors can save time and effort.
 
To be clear, this does not mean focusing exclusively on such benefits - to do so would be to go back to conventional marketing altogether. But focusing too heavily on environmental benefits at the expense of primary benefits will put your product in the green graveyard, buried under good intentions. Happily, thanks to advances in technology, many greener products these days do provide added value in the form of enhanced benefits.

Does your green product improve health?
Keep in mind that the number one reason why consumers buy greener products is not to “save the planet” but to protect their own health. Categories most closely aligned with health are growing the fastest and tend to command the highest premiums. Health messages can apply to a wide variety of product categories. Consider, for instance, a print ad for AFM Safecoat (that ran here in the U.S.) featuring 16 buckets of paint; 15 of the buckets are painted red and bear labels such as “Gorgeous Paints,” “100% Pure,” “Low Odor,” and “Sustainable.” However, the last bucket stands out in green and announces “The Only Paint that is Doctor Recommended.”
 
Does your product appeal to the style-conscious?
American Apparel was created as a brand that provides excellent working conditions for its employees and uses organic cotton. But, in 2004, when its “sweatshop free” label did not bring in the numbers that CEO Dov Charney was hoping for, he switched to promoting a sexy, youthful image for his company - complete with racy, controversial ads with young women. Three years later, the company has 180 stores and revenue estimated at $380 million. Sounds heretical? Keep in mind that the same sustainably responsible clothing is still being sold to consumers, together with all the same benefits to society and the environment.
 
Does your product save consumers money?
Many brands find that their green benefits neatly translate into something direct and meaningful to the customer, such as energy savings translating into cost savings. Ads for Sears’ Kenmore’s HE5t steamwasher state that it uses 77% less water and 81% less energy than older models. The headline grabs readers with the compelling promise, “You pay for the washer. It pays for the dryer.” In New Jersey, Marcal’s Small Steps campaign positioned the use of 100% recycled household paper products as an easy measure to take for the environment and save money.
 
Today’s consumers want to know the back-story about products and packages, so focus on primary benefits in the context of a full story that incorporates the environment as a desirable extra benefit. Better yet, integrate relevant environmental and social benefits within your brand’s already established market positioning, and you’ve got the stuff for a meaningful sale.


******
Jacquelyn Ottman is the founder and principal of J. Ottman Consulting, Inc., an expert advisers on green marketing to consumer product marketers and U.S. government labeling programs. She is the author of four books on green marketing, including the recently released The New Rules of Green Marketing: Strategies, Tools and Inspiration for Sustainable Branding (Berrett-Koehler, 2011).
Download a free chapter and get more information here.

Excerpted from The New Rules of Green Marketing: Strategies, Tools and Inspiration for Sustainable Branding (Berrett-Koehler 2011) by Jacquelyn A. Ottman.
 

Originally published in The Guardian, September 23, 2011.



Doing Cause Marketing Right

Wednesday, April 11, 2012 by

(RED) image Once considered a short-term promotional tactic, cause marketing is now a mature, long-term strategic business practice that can enhance brand image and boost sales. Most importantly, cause-related products give businesses an impact that goes far beyond mere tax-deductible checks (philanthropy).

Several successful brands are making social causes central to their business. Consider the enormously successful TOMS One for One campaign, which gives a pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair of their rubber-soled alpargatas shoes they sell.

The monumental success of cause marketing campaigns thus far creates high expectations. Your brand may need to follow suit by getting in touch with relevant social issues. Below, I’ve detailed some of the opportunities and challenges to consider when developing cause-related products.

Cause marketing successes

One of the most visible in the history of cause-related marketing is Project (RED). Launched in 2006 by Bono of rock group U2 and Bobby Shriver of Debt, AIDS, Trade in Africa (DATA), multiple high-profile companies joined on by donating 50% of profits from products labeled as (RED). The funds have provided over 825,000 HIV-positive people with antiretroviral therapy, 3.2 million AIDS orphans with basic care, and prevented more than 3.5 million deaths.

Another successful instance of cause marketing was IKEA’s partnership with UNICEF to benefit children in Angola and Uganda. IKEA agreed to donate $2.00 from every sale of their BRUM teddy bears to UNICEF’s “Children’s Right to Play” program, which uses play-based interaction to educate and empower children in need. The promotion was called “A Bear that Gives,” and between 2003 and 2005 it raised $2.2 million to educate street children in Angola and displaced children in Uganda, as well as putting 38,000 Ugandan children in daycare centers.

Even small businesses can participate in meaningful cause marketing.

Consider 1% for the Planet, founded by the environmentally passionate Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia, and Craig Mathews, owner of Blue Ribbon Flies, to connect businesses and their consumers with philanthropy. Currently, more than 700 environ-mentally conscious companies contribute 1% of their sales to a growing list of more than 1,500 environmental groups around the world.

Cause for concern

Before embarking on your own cause-marketing effort, realize that there are some rules of the road. Consumers are attracted to causes that put them in the driver’s seat, and they will turn on a misguided campaign.

Some Sierra Club members created a stir – and some even pulled out of the organization – in response to breaking news that the Sierra Club was receiving an undisclosed amount of money for what they perceived as an endorsement of Clorox’s Green Works cleaning products. Sierra Club members’ objections to the partnership included the fact that Clorox manufactured chlorine bleach and that 98% of Clorox products were still made from synthetic chemicals. (Green Works only accounted for 2% of Clorox’s total sales). Both organizations now disclose the financial compensation that Sierra Club receives for its support, and as of late 2009, Clorox announced it would no longer make bleach out of chlorine and sodium hydroxide.

Reflecting its ability to gently but effectively clean waterfowl affected by oil spills, Dawn dishwashing liquid ran a cause-related campaign with the Marine Mammal Center and the International Bird Rescue Research Center in which it donated $1 for every specially marked package bought by consumers. However, some visitors to its Facebook page and YouTube commercial protested the promotion, citing that Procter & Gamble tests its products on animals, forcing the company to defend its policies and remind its detractors that it has invested more than $250 million developing alternative testing methods.

Finally, Ethos Water, co-owned by Pepsi and Starbucks, donates 5 cents for every unit sold to help people in underdeveloped regions to get clean water. Environmentalists question this approach, maintaining that clean, drinkable water should be a human right and not a function of corporate profits. They also maintain that promoting bottled water for environmental benefits is inconsistent with the related impacts of plastic recycling, energy expended to transport the product, and potential depletion of natural water supplies.

Creating authentic brand value

To reap the benefits demonstrated over 15 years of cause-related marketing. Follow these guidelines for success outlined by Cone’s 2008 Cause Evolution Study:

• Allow consumers to select their own cause

• Ensure that the cause you pick is both personally relevant to consumers and makes strategic sense to your business

• Choose a trusted, established not-for-profit organization

• Provide practical incentives for involvement, such as saving money or time

• Provide emotional incentives for involvement, such as it making them feel good or alleviating shopping guilt.

 

***Jacquelyn Ottman is the founder and principal of J. Ottman Consulting, Inc., an expert advisers on green marketing to consumer product marketers and U.S. government labeling programs. She is the author of four books on green marketing, including the recently released The New Rules of Green Marketing: Strategies, Tools and Inspiration for Sustainable Branding (Berrett-Koehler, 2011).
Download a free chapter and get more information here.

Excerpted from The New Rules of Green Marketing: Strategies, Tools and Inspiration for Sustainable Branding (Berrett-Koehler 2011) by Jacquelyn A. Ottman. 


Toyota's Priums: Different Strokes for Different Folks

Thursday, March 29, 2012 by
prius

The mainstreaming of green brings with it the need to segment audiences. As marketing efforts behind the Toyota Prius demonstrate, targeting messages to specific consumer groups can broaden appeal.


When launching the Prius in 2001, Toyota opted to target not the green-leaning drivers one might expect, but rather tech-savvy “early adopter” consumers. Featuring a beauty shot of a shiny new car parked at a stop light and illustrated by the provocative headline, “Ever heard the sound a stoplight makes?” an introductory print ad emphasized the hybrid car’s quiet ride (and specifically the fact that the motor when switched into electric gear did not idle at stoplights like combustion engines).


Putting primary benefits first, the key visual was a big, bold beauty shot of the car itself set off against a backdrop of the Golden Gate Bridge while the body copy explained the revolutionary technology.

Environmental benefits appeared at the top right corner of the ad in mouse print in the form of compelling statistics about the car’s fuel economy and emissions. To establish its green bona fides and get a buzz going among influential greens, a supplemental campaign, “Genius,” spotlighted the car’s lighter environmental touch and activist group endorsements.


Spiked gasoline prices subsequently triggered a new campaign highlighting the car’s fuel efficiency. Today, its distinctive styling makes the Prius —and its now extended family of members—a rolling billboard of one’s environmental values and forward thinking. A successful public relations campaign, including stunts like celebrities rolling up to the Academy Awards in a Prius, bestowed the car with a “coolness” factor the reason why, anecdotally, many people buy a Prius.


******
Jacquelyn Ottman is the founder and principal of J. Ottman Consulting, Inc., an expert advisers on green marketing to consumer product marketers and U.S. government labeling programs. She is the author of four books on green marketing, including the recently released The New Rules of Green Marketing: Strategies, Tools and Inspiration for Sustainable Branding (Berrett-Koehler, 2011).
Download a free chapter and get more information here.

Excerpted from The New Rules of Green Marketing: Strategies, Tools and Inspiration for Sustainable Branding (Berrett-Koehler 2011) by Jacquelyn A. Ottman.
 

How to Choose the Right Eco-label for Your Brand

Thursday, March 8, 2012 by
eco labels

Eco-labels are an excellent way to enhance credibility for green marketing claims, but they are not without risk. While 28% of consumers look to green certification seals or labels to confirm that a product adheres to claims, these labels can also confuse. Happily there’s enough method within the madness for marketers to pave a way forward.
 
Eco-labeling challenges
 More than 400 different eco-labels or green certification systems are now on the market. Questions such as which label is better, which product is safer for the environment and what does a label even mean are common questions that well-intended green shoppers may find themselves asking when trying to make an environmentally responsible purchase.
 
Confusion can arise from labels that certify too much or too little information. Some eco-labels focus on a single product attribute (e.g., recycled content), which keeps things simple but can inadvertently mislead consumers into thinking the product is green overall. Other labels look at several characteristics of a product or even a product’s entire life cycle; such multi-attribute certifications may raise questions about the credibility of a single-attribute certified product while also preventing easy comparisons.
 
Some products, such as electrical appliances, have a number of labels and certifications, while others, such as mattresses or flatware, have none. Another common reason for confusion is the discrepancy in the levels of rigor applied to some eco-labeling—some require independent, third-party verifications while others allow self-certification.
 
Here are some important criteria to consider when seeking the labeling most relevant to your brand:
 
Single-attribute labels
 
Single-attribute seals focus on one environmental issue, e.g., energy efficiency or sustainable-wood harvesting. Before certification, an independent third-party auditor is typically required to verify that the product meets a publicly available standard.
 
Many single-attribute labels are sponsored by industry associations looking to defend or capture new markets. Others are sponsored by environmental groups or NGOs that want to protect a natural resource or further a cause. Two single-attribute labels with a global presence are the Forest Stewardship Council (or FSC) label, ensuring the sustainable harvesting of wood and paper, and Fair Trade Certified, ensuring that strict economic, social and environmental criteria were met in the production and trade of such agricultural products as coffee.

Voluntary U.S. government labels
 Unlike in some countries, such as Canada, Japan and South Korea, the U.S. government has opted for voluntary single- rather than multi-attribute labels. (The private sector and not-for-profit groups hold sway in the area of multiattribute eco-labeling.) Outside of those associated with independent testing, the government-backed labels don’t involve fees. One of the most visible and influential labels is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s ENERGY STAR (for which we at J. Ottman Consulting were proud to advise over many years).
 
ENERGY STAR promotes energy efficiency in more than 60 product categories, and almost 3,000 manufactured products now feature the ENERGY STAR label. In fact, according to the Natural Marketing Institute, in 2009, 93% of the American public recognized the ENERGY STAR label and 73% said they would be more likely to purchase products that carried that label.
 
Other EPA labels include WaterSense, SmartWay (transportation) and Design for Environment (safer chemicals). The USDA stewards the USDA Organic and USDA Certified Biobased labels (another J. Ottman Consulting client).
 
Multi-attribute labels
 As the name suggests, multi-attribute labels examine two or more environmental impacts. Founded in 1989, Green Seal is the granddaddy of them all. It provides a seal of approval for a variety of products that meet specific criteria on a category-by-category basis. Products are reviewed annually for a fee. A few of the organizations whose products now bear the Green Seal certification include Wausau Paper, Clorox, Kimberly-Clark and Hilton.
 
Other multi-attribute labels exist primarily for specific categories, such as EPEAT in electronics and Global Organic Textile Standards. Still others address specific areas of concern: for instance, the Carbon Trust’s Carbon Reduction label ensuring that the carbon footprint of a product has been measured and is being offset, and the C2C (Cradle to Cradle) label with its emphasis on material chemistry and toxicity. Walmart’s Sustainability Consortium promises to eventually deliver multi-attribute guidance in the form of a Sustainable Product Index.
 
Self-certification programs
 Issued by manufacturers to denote their own environmental and social achievements, self-certification programs do not carry endorsements or the credibility of an impartial third party. However, they do provide distinct advantages in controlling costs and providing flexibility in the type and amount of information provided to consumers. Some self-certification systems showcase labels obtained from government or third-party labeling. Companies that have their own self-certification include NEC Corp. (Eco Products), Sony Ericsson(GreenHeart), General Electric Co. (Ecomagination) and Timberland Co. (Green Index).
 
Independent claim verification
 Independent for-profit organizations, including Scientific Certification Systems, Oakland, Calif., and UL Environment, Northbrook, Ill., will verify specific claims for a fee. They will also develop standards in industries where none exist as well as certify products against standards developed by other organizations.
 
Environmental product declaration
 ISO, the International Organization for Standardization, describes three types of eco-labels: Type I: Environmental Labels; Type II: Environmental Claims and Self-declarations; and Type III: Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs). More often used in Europe and Asia than the U.S., EPDs provide detailed explanations of the full life-cycle impact of a product.
 
An excellent example is the EPD issued per ISO 14025 by Steelcase for its Think Chair, designed to fit the needs of consumers around the world. Displayed at the company’s website, Steelcase.com, the EPD shares the results of three life-cycle assessments (needed to accurately assess impacts in North America, Europe, and Asia), and describes the various certifications it has received from different countries around the globe.
 
A way forward
Considering an eco-seal endorsement or independent claim certification for your brand or products? Use these suggestions to avoid confusion and maximize the potential value of an eco-label for your brand/product.
 
1. Choose wisely
 Ensure that the organization behind the seal and its methodologies are credible. In particular, look to see that its standards have been developed in accordance with standards-writing organizations such as ISO and local bodies such as the American National Standards Institute or the British Standards Institute.
 
2. Be relevant
 With so many labels available out there, it is quite likely that your brand may qualify for more than one eco-label and product attribute. Thus, aim to promote the attributes that are most relevant to your brand. Also, remember to integrate your eco-labeling into existing brand platforms. GE’s well-known Ecomagination designation extends from the company’s longstanding “Imagination at Work” brand platform.
 
3. Educate
 Avoid consumer confusion by educating your consumers about the specific criteria upon which your eco-seal is based. When it comes to single-attribute labels, take care to communicate that only a specific product attribute is being certified and that the entire product is not greener as a result. For credibility’s sake, if appropriate, communicate attempts to extend the greening process to other product attributes.
 
4. Be transparent
 If you opt to self-certify, be clear that the label is your own. For example, SC Johnson’s GreenList label was recently taken to task for appearing to be the work of a third party.
 
5. Promote your eco-label
 Considering that many eco-labels are not widely recognized by the average consumer, help to create demand for your eco-label through marketing communication consistent with your seal’s own guidelines. The ENERGY STAR label enjoys strong awareness thanks largely to the promotional efforts of the many manufacturers whose products bear the label coupled with advertising. Be sure to look for opportunities to distinguish your commitment to your selected eco-label from competitors using the same label.
 
******
 Jacquelyn Ottman is the founder and principal of J. Ottman Consulting, Inc., an expert advisers on green marketing to consumer product marketers and U.S. government labeling programs. She is the author of four books on green marketing, including the recently released The New Rules of Green Marketing: Strategies, Tools and Inspiration for Sustainable Branding (Berrett-Koehler, 2011).
Download a free chapter and get more information here.

Excerpted from The New Rules of Green Marketing: Strategies, Tools and Inspiration for Sustainable Branding (Berrett-Koehler 2011) by Jacquelyn A. Ottman. 

USDA Certification Raises Bar for Biobased

Tuesday, February 28, 2012 by

With carbon footprint and energy independence on everyone’s minds, many marketers are looking to capitalize upon their product’s biobased content. But not all biobased claims are alike. The scientific rigor of an ASTM standard combined with the credibility of the USDA raises the bar for the industry and makes the USDA Certified Biobased label a new source of competitive advantage within the consumer and government procurement markets for brand owners who make the effort to get their biobased products certified.

What is “Biobased”?

There is no Webster’s definition of biobased. So, marketers have tended to define it loosely or link it to perceptions of biobased as anything biological, living, natural, renewable or even biodegradable. Some do not reveal the amount of, or basis for, claiming biobased content, making comparisons difficult. This can even represent greenwash when biobased content levels are insignificant. Many questionable biobased claims have emerged, including several official-looking logos with no third party backing. With over 25,000 biobased products on the market, clearly there’s a need to clear up the confusion.

The USDA Certified Biobased label introduced one year ago this month now helps to level the market for biobased claims by providing a clear definition and an internationally recognized test standard backed up by the credibility of the USDA. Over 500 products have already been approved to use the label, and applications in the pipeline for at least 400 more. (See our previous post for more detail.)

Not just any biologically derived product or package can qualify for the label. Certified products must meet three key criteria:  they meet the definition of biobased as written into the 2008 Farm Bill, they contain minimum levels of biobased content set forth by the USDA and verified by the ASTM D6866 test standard (minimums are determined on a category by category basis and are pegged to performance and other criteria), and they represent alternatives to petroleum-based materials introduced after 1972. So, products that were on the market before 1972 made from natural fibers or forestry resources such as cotton tee shirts, office paper, or a 2 x 4 made of pine would not qualify. And neither would products whose biobased content did not meet minimum levels. (See http://biopreferred.gov for more details.) 

Translating Biobased Content Into Marketing Benefits

The label, with its sun, sea and crops motif was designed to help communicate that biobased products can be derived from the sea or forests — not just grown from plants. For transparency, it requires that the exact percentage of biobased content be listed on the label for the product and/or package. Thus, marketers are provided with a level playing field and consumers have an easy way to identify legitimate biobased products, as well as to compare and trust in their stated content levels.

Marketers can use the label to support a range of benefits including energy independence, alternatives to petroleum, carbon cycle management, enhanced farm and rural economies, and green jobs. Related and specific product environmental benefits as applicable, including renewable, biodegradable, natural, or compostable, must be supported and substantiated with scientific evidence.

Credibility is key. Proprietary formulas safeguarded. The price is right.

The USDA Biobased certification process is administered by Iowa State University, an independent third party. Only accredited independent laboratories conduct testing. Since the certification only measures carbon content, no proprietary formulas have to be disclosed. Unlike most other certifications, there is no upfront fee, licensing or royalties, so even the smallest businesses can take advantage of the program. Only a $500 lab test is required — a small price to pay for a potentially big competitive advantage.

Seventh Generation leads the pack.

Seventh Generation has already certified over 35 of their household and personal care products; their motivations: to promote transparency, to avoid greenwash, to allow consumers to make side by side comparisons, and to change the way the industry talks about “natural”. In the words of Julia Walker, Associate Scientist of Seventh Generation, “Our consumers want to know where their products originate without being “greenwashed.” The USDA Certified Biobased label enables us to disclose the percent renewable carbon in our products, telling consumers how much carbon comes from plants versus petroleum. The credibility of the method will give consumers the confidence they deserve to make conscious choices about their purchases and the products they bring into their homes.”


 

Jacquelyn Ottman and Mark Eisen are colleagues at New York City-based J. Ottman Consulting, Inc. They advised USDA BioPreferred on the launch of the USDA Certified Biobased label during 2011 and are now working with labelers on capturing the value of their participation in the program. Ms. Ottman is the author of The New Rules of Green Marketing: Strategies, Tools and Inspiration for Sustainable Branding (Berrett-Koehler, 2011), named a Top 40 Sustainability book by Cambridge University.

Mr. Eisen is the former environmental marketing director at The Home Depot.  They are co-authors of “The Rise of the Biobased Economy — Why Brand Owners Need a Strategy in 2012.”

Copyright © 2012 J. Ottman Consulting, Inc.

How Consumers Can Share Responsibility for Greening

Thursday, February 16, 2012 by
water faucet

Tom’s of Maine can make the toothpaste more natural, but they can’t force consumers to turn the water off when they brush. Coke can make the bottles recyclable, but only consumers can drop them in the blue bin. Sun Chips can make the bags compostable, but only consumers can see that they get to a composting pile instead of a trash can.
 
Communications can fill this gap. With life cycle risks escalating over time, green marketers must now educate their consumers on how to use and dispose of their products responsibly. And empirical evidence suggests consumers are willing to listen to these messages. Use the following tested strategies to engage your consumers.
 
Provide feedback.
The now familiar dashboard feature on Toyota’s Prius provides real-time information on the fuel efficiency being attained by the electric motor and combustion engine. Prius owners report trying to best their previous mileage achievements on successive tries, and they even try to beat each other.

Use peer pressure.
The software company OPower provides electric utilities with software that helps provide comparative information on electricity usage. The program measures efficiency by sending customers “smiley faces” when their performance exceeds that of neighbors. This simple software was responsible for generating sustained reductions of energy usage by 2% in a 2008 test by the Sacramento Municipal Utility District.

Make it fun.
Incentives and rewards can help too. RecycleBank, for one, does a fine job of educating consumers through the use of games. SmartPhones are also making new information accessible to consumers. Phone applications that check a product’s eco-credentials are becoming especially popular, turning shopping into a new educational experience
 
Make the intangible tangible.
Motivate consumers to use and dispose of products more responsibly by using compelling visuals to better communicate their impacts. The chart from Procter & Gamble (I added the “You are Here”) was intended for businesspeople, so it might be a tad technical, but I think you’ll get my point. It shows the energy impacts throughout various life cycle stages for several product categories, including laundry detergent, shampoos and diapers, among others.

product energy usage
 
If you follow the line that stands out like the Empire State Building, you’ll see that the key energy-related impact of laundry detergent is not related to the production process or supply chain transportation; the main impact is the energy it takes to heat the water. I’m sure you’ll agree that a visual like this combined with additional information-let’s say costs and climate change impacts—could be instrumental in getting consumers to turn the dial down to cold.
 
******
 Jacquelyn Ottman is the founder and principal of J. Ottman Consulting, Inc., an expert advisers on green marketing to consumer product marketers and U.S. government labeling programs. She is the author of four books on green marketing, including the recently released The New Rules of Green Marketing: Strategies, Tools and Inspiration for Sustainable Branding (Berrett-Koehler, 2011).
 Download a free chapter and get more information here.

from The New Rules of Green Marketing: Strategies, Tools and Inspiration for Sustainable Branding (Berrett-Koehler 2011) by Jacquelyn A. Ottman.
 
This post was originally published July 14, 2011 on TriplePundit.com.

Don't Let Skepticism Stifle Your Interest

Monday, January 30, 2012 by
green washing

Ask businesses why they don’t tout green achievements more often, and their answer will likely be fear of greenwash.

Before you let such fears deter you from making investments in sustainable technology or promoting your green achievements, consider how difficult it is for any advertiser to gain consumer trust.

Consumers have always been skeptical of advertising. Take the food industry, for example. Food brands have long been under government scrutiny for their advertising claims. Today, companies are getting smeared for overpromising health benefits, leaving consumers confused about what’s actually true. But we don’t call that “food wash.”

As I write in my book, The New Rules of Green Marketing, skepticism is so rampant in all industries that consumers trust each other more than they trust brands, ads and media messages in general. That’s one reason social media is soaring right now.

Skepticism is par for the course. Besides, a little skepticism is good – it keeps us on our toes. The now “Wild West” green marketplace will mature. But as is the case for many established industries, the potential to screw up will always be there.

So, proceed with caution. But for the sake of the planet and your business, do proceed. The following strategies will help you avoid greenwash and gain competitive advantage in the process:

1. Walk your talk.

Thwart the most discriminating of critics by visibly making progress toward measurable goals. Being proactive in responding to the public’s concerns and expectations starts with a visible and committed CEO. That’s because CEOs can create an emotional link between the company and its customers. Empower your employees, too. Educate them on environmental issues and the specifics of their company’s processes so they can fuel authentic communications about your company’s green initiatives.

2. Be transparent.

Provide access to details about your products and corporate practices, and continuously report on your progress. In the future, disclosure of environmental impacts may be required by law. Get a jump on competitors and regulators—and score some points with consumers—by voluntarily disclosing as much as possible. During this process, don’t hide bad news. Acknowledge your weaknesses and explain how you’re proactively trying to improve.

3. Don’t mislead.

Be specific, prominent and comprehensive so as not to confuse. Consumers may claim to know what commonly used terms such as “recyclable” and “biodegradable” mean, but they can be easily mistaken—creating risk for unsuspecting sustainable marketers.

The best advice for green marketers is to adopt specific standards for disclosure of green initiatives and to follow the FTC Green Guides or other appropriate government guidelines. If possible, consult with lawyers who specifically address green claims.

4. Enlist the support of third parties.

Let stakeholders in on the steps you’re taking, and educate the public on how they can help. You can also align positively with third parties that perform independent life-cycle inventories, certify claims and award eco-seals. Certifying your product under appropriate eco-labels lends credibility to environmental messages. When choosing eco-labels, be sure to choose wisely based on how relevant the label is to your brand image. If your product has multiple eco-labels, make sure the standards for each do not conflict with one another.

5. Promote responsible consumption.

It’s one thing to design a product to be greener, but you can’t minimize impact throughout the total product life cycle unless consumers eventually use and dispose of your product more responsibly. Enlisting consumer support for responsible consumption is a sure-fire way to build credibility and reduce risk. Products can be designed to make it easier for consumers to minimize resource use. In turn, people will appreciate your efforts to make responsible consumption more manageable.

******

Jacquelyn Ottman is the founder and principal of J. Ottman Consulting, Inc., an expert advisers on green marketing to consumer product marketers and U.S. government labeling programs. She is the author of four books on green marketing, including the recently released The New Rules of Green Marketing: Strategies, Tools and Inspiration for Sustainable Branding (Berrett-Koehler, 2011).

Download a free chapter and get more information here.

The Rise of the Biobased Economy — and Why Brand Owners Need to Develop a Strategy in 2012

Tuesday, January 17, 2012 by

Bio Based CertificationOur economy is slowly but surely heeding the signal that carbon is the new watchword. During the past few years, a steady stream of so-called “biobased” products have been making their way to retail shelves — compostable dinnerware made from corn, plant-based laundry detergents, and bamboo flooring among them. Coke and Pepsi are now competing to be first to market with a soft drink bottle derived entirely from sugarcane or other plant materials.

The emerging biobased economy even has its own label — USDA Certified Biobased, pictured here. It’s part of a federal BioPreferred program designed to help grow “green” jobs, stimulate the rural economy, promote energy independence and prompt a shift to renewable resources from petroleum, helping to manage the carbon cycle.

Launched in February 2011, the label needs a little introduction since the term “biobased”, although familiar sounding, represents more than meets the eye. We advised the USDA on strategic marketing considerations related to the launch of the USDA Certified Biobased label. Here’s a primer — and why you need to be thinking about forming your own biobased strategy during 2012.

What is “Biobased”?
Ask a consumer what “biobased” means and they might respond with somewhat erroneous definitions such as “natural” “biodegradable” or “renewable”.  Consult Webster and you’ll come up short. But the USDA (and federal law) defines it quite specifically as “commercial or industrial products, other than food or feed, that are composed in whole, or in significant part, of biological products or renewable agricultural materials (including plant, animal, and aquatic materials), or forestry materials” — hence the label depicting the soil, sea and the sun.

More important than this definition are the program’s intention — to expand the market for alternatives to petroleum-based products by promoting new uses for agricultural commodities such as bioplastics, biofibers and biobased chemicals. It thus excludes products such as office paper, cotton t-shirts and wooden furniture introduced before 1972. (See BioPreferred.gov for more details.)

Both finished consumer and commercial products as well as intermediate products (e.g., platform chemicals, fibers, etc.) are currently eligible to earn the USDA Certified Biobased label. Standards for “complex” products (consisting of many components, such as automobiles) are being developed. Among the many products that have already earned the label are: Procter & Gamble’s Gillette ProGuide Fusion razor package; Papermate mechanical pencils made from Mirel biodegradable plastic, the Greenware line of cold cups made from NatureWorks’ plant-based Ingeo polymer; and intermediates such as Lenzing’s TENCEL lyocell fiber made from eucalyptus and DuPont’s Sorona polymer. Seventh Generation is so bullish about the label that they have certified over 60 of their household cleaning and personal care products — virtually their entire product line-up.

Why Pursue a Biobased Strategy
The credibility and broadscale awareness of the brand USDA positions labeled products to stand out to consumers. In an age where consumers actively seek environmentally preferable biobased products with comparable price and performance, having the USDA certified biobased label increases shelf appeal. And marketing benefits don’t stop there. The federal government, by law and executive order, now gives purchasing preference to over sixty categories of biobased products. Biobased alternatives can also help businesses to manage volatile petroleum-driven costs and ensure sustainable supplies.

Measurement, Transparency and Product Performance
Not every product made with plants or other renewable resources can qualify for the USDA Certified Biobased label. That’s because the USDA has set strict minimums for biobased content in a wide range of “designated” products. For instance, a lip balm may only need 11% biobased content to qualify, while a disposable food container needs 72%. Any product category for which a target has not yet been established must achieve minimum biobased content levels of 25%. Although this 25% bar may at first glance seem low, keep in mind that minimums are based upon the highest levels of biobased content possible without compromising performance, and to encourage participation in a market now ramping up.

Biobased content is measured using a radiocarbon dating test standard, ASTM D6866. This test measures total carbon content and distinguishes the amount of “new” organic from fossil or petroleum-based carbon. This enables the “new” organic (biobased) carbon to be expressed as a percent of the total carbon. To foster transparency, encourage a level playing field and promote continuous improvement, the USDA Certified Biobased label requires disclosure of the percentage of biobased content for the product and/or package.

Caution Advised When Making Environmental Claims
Marketers may realize advantages if they can substantiate a product’s biobased content in support of environmental marketing claims such as “natural”, “biodegradable”, “renewable” or even “non-toxic”. However, none of these environmental attributes are automatic because of a product’s certified biobased content. Whether a claimed environmental attribute can be supported depends upon the amount of biobased content, as well as how the product was processed and transported, and other life cycle considerations.

Keep in mind too, that much consumer confusion surrounds the biodegradability and recyclability of bioplastics. For instance, some resins may not be biodegradable but can be recycled (like Coke’s bioplastic PET PlantBottle, recyclable with petroleum-based PET).  In addition, some traditional petroleum-based plastics are compostable in industrial (municipal) facilities, but not in backyard composters. And no plastic, biobased or otherwise, is designed to readily biodegrade in landfills.

The revised proposed FTC Green Guides, anticipated in 2012, will likely include specific guidance for biobased marketing and related claims. (We’ll discuss this in more depth in future posts.)

What’s Your Biobased Strategy?
According to Kate Lewis, Deputy Manager of the USDA BioPreferred program, since its introduction in February 2011, over 500 products have been certified to use the USDA Certified Biobased label and over 400 applications are in the pipeline.  She reports that her group is “looking forward to working with proactive brand owners to capitalize upon their certification and really drive this new bio-industrial revolution forward.” Now entering the market, these labelers will enjoy first-mover advantage as well as the opportunity to educate their consumers and other stakeholders about the benefit biobased content brings to their products.

Whether one leads or follows, it’s clear biobased products figure prominently in our future. We predict that all products will ultimately be judged by their carbon content and their potential to effect global climate change. So, credible biobased products are and will continue to be a critical component of a long-range strategy. Short-term motivations for developing a biobased strategy, while company and brand specific, can include minimizing cost, enhancing image, reputation and consumer perception, and avoiding potential regulatory risks. So key questions for every brand owner, product manager and CEO in 2012 are What’s your biobased strategy? Do you have a team in place to bring biobased innovation into your brand and product portfolio?

Jacquelyn Ottman and Mark Eisen wrote this article. They are colleagues at New York-based J. Ottman Consulting, Inc. They advised USDA BioPreferred on the launch of the USDA Certified Biobased label during 2011 and are now advising labelers on how to market their participation in the program. Ms. Ottman is the author of The New Rules of Green Marketing: Strategies, Tools and Inspiration for Sustainable Branding (Berrett-Koehler, 2011). Mr. Eisen is the former environmental marketing director at The Home Depot.

Copyright © 2012 J. Ottman Consulting, Inc.

Earth to Eco-Labels: Be Consumer Useful of Wither From Lack of Relevance

Friday, December 30, 2011 by
EPA DOT image

Everyone lauds eco-labels being put forth by such sustainability leaders as Timberland, HP and Levi’s for transparency and commitment, but are they really all that useful to consumers? Likely not.  These labels may be informative and project credibility, but I believe their usefulness can—and must—be taken up a notch.
 
An eco-label’s greatest value is not its ability to simply convey environmental stewardship; rather, an eco-label’s worth lies in how clearly it relates green qualities to what I call “consumer-useful” information. Labels with consumer-useful information put the practical, valuable aspects of a product’s environmental attributes front and center. Such labels allow consumers to quantify savings or other sources of added value over the course of a product’s entire lifecycle.
 
I believe almost every eco-label up until this point has fallen short of this goal —except for the new EPA fuel-economy label, that is. In terms of consumer relevance, the EPA Fuel Economy label sets the bar for a future of eco-labels that motivate rather than simply educate.
 
Yes, this EPA label can be applauded for its highly thorough information on greenhouse gas and smog ratings, but its real value lies in its ability to show consumers at the point of sale how much money they can save by buying a greener car. Thus, this label’s most consumer-useful information is the data on estimated annual fuel costs and the fuel savings projected over five years of the car’s ownership.
 
However ironic it may seem for a green label, this latter information will likely shift more car sales than the environmental data that’s provided due to its practicality (It’s OK to sneak green past consumers, folks.)
 
It’s the planets, babies and daisies thing all over again.
If our eco-labels only boast of “planet-saving” attributes, their allure will be short-lived and their impact will be limited. In a marketplace proliferated by vague, repetitive green claims, it is no longer enough to merely explain benefits to the planet.
 
Green marketing means enhancing product quality across the board. That translates into additional product benefits and helping consumers interact with their environment in new ways. Saving money, bettering one’s health, or lengthening a product’s lifespan are all consumer-useful attributes that eco-labels must depict explicitly. Only in doing so will our eco-labels engender stronger motivation to change consumption habits—the goal all along.
 
So, what can other green communicators learn from this?
Live and learn. In my book, The New Rules of Green Marketing, I commend the following companies’ eco-labels, but the EPA’s new fuel-economy label introduced in May of this year shows me these companies could do even better.
 
In the book I congratulate Timberland’s Green Index as a watershed mark in transparency, but I now believe it could include more consumer-useful information. Looking at the Green Index with a consumer useful lens make me want to see estimates on how long the boots will last (durability) and whether or not Timberland provides a repair/rebuild service akin to Allen Edmonds, the fancy men’s shoe maker. Consumers must be able to quantify benefits and relate green qualities to personal benefits.
 
HP’s EcoHighlights label sports a number of laudable environmental accolades their printers have earned, but at the end of the day, consumers might be more interested in how that eco-information translates into relevant benefits such as ease of double-sided printing, life expectancy and costs per printed page.
 
I initially fell in love with the “Levi’s Care Instructions for Our Planet” label and heartily congratulate Levi’s for including it on their jeans. However, I now believe that consumers would be more apt to follow the instructions (and the planet would be better served) if the primary benefit was making one’s jeans look good longer.
 
Think—and Work—Holistically
 Ensuring consumer-useful eco-data will take a de-siloing of sustainability and marketing responsibilities. Only when consumer, environmental and technical advocates roll up their sleeves at one table will relevant communications be developed.


******
 Jacquelyn Ottman is the founder and principal of J. Ottman Consulting, Inc., an expert advisers on green marketing to consumer product marketers and U.S. government labeling programs. She is the author of four books on green marketing, including the recently released The New Rules of Green Marketing: Strategies, Tools and Inspiration for Sustainable Branding (Berrett-Koehler, 2011).
 Download a free chapter and get more information here.


 






Let the Consumer Decide

Thursday, December 15, 2011 by
shifting scale image

You hear a lot of talk about the “sin of the hidden trade-offs.” when talking green marketing strategy.  I’ve got news for you, folks. Greening—like life itself—is all about the trade-offs! No product is 100% “green.” So, considering that all products use energy and create waste, green is a relative term. One product is green-er for someone at some time in some place.

Green is Relative
For instance, cloth diapers might not cause any trees to be chopped down, but they do use a lot of hot water. Disposable diapers don’t use water but they do clog landfills and with a lot of hazardous waste at that.

So, what is the greener (est?) solution for any one consumer? The answer is usually: “It depends.” For example— and I’m likely oversimplifying here—cloth diapers might be better in NY where we have lots of water and no landfill. But they might be environmental disasters in the Southwest, where diverting water from other regions might be even more environmentally hazardous than digging a hole in the ground and burying them.

Identify the Trade-Offs
Regional, climatic and other differences cannot be underestimated. I’ve been told that if you live in NY like I do, it may actually be better for the environment to buy conventional strawberries grown in New Jersey rather than shipping in USDA Organic strawberries from California.

Consumers dropped the noisy Sun Chips bag like a hot potato; for the vast majority of them, composting was likely irrelevant or misunderstood. I think the Frito-Lay folks would have been better off if they had introduced their corn-based bags regionally in cities like Seattle and San Francisco that have access to municipal collection of compostables.

Consumers intuitively understand these trade-offs. Who said “life is one big trade-off?”. So, let’s empower them with the information they need to choose among the various products, materials, technologies, and designs that serve their needs better, and greener.

Jacquelyn Ottman is the founder and principal of J. Ottman Consulting, Inc., an expert advisers on green marketing to consumer product marketers and U.S. government labeling programs. She is the author of four books on green marketing, including the recently released The New Rules of Green Marketing: Strategies, Tools and Inspiration for Sustainable Branding (Berrett-Koehler, 2011).
Download a free chapter and get more information here.